As the Australian cricket season nears its close, a key question must be asked: does Cricket Australia know its own Test Cricket strategy?
Heading into the much-anticipated series against India, there was uncertainty regarding COVID-19 and the possibility of any match at any given time falling prey to the pandemic. After the series, the uncertainty has shifted to Australia’s Test batting and the continued search to nail down certain positions.
After missing out on the World Test Championship Final (owing somewhat to over rates, it must be said) and not having a Test scheduled until November, it’s time that Cricket Australia nails its strategy.
Seeing the Sheffield Shield being played with the next Test some six months away provides quite an empty feeling. Peter Handscomb has hit form, but what good is it now? The Big Bash League, for all its glory in its early years, has now taken over as the main domestic showpiece of the Australian summer.
Now, don’t get me wrong, tuning into a night of BBL after a day of Test cricket action is something for fans to get excited about. However, it harms our red-ball prospects, which is especially concerning as Australia still prioritises Test cricket.
And the proof is there.
Before the Test tour of South Africa was postponed, Australia picked two separate squads for the Tests in South Africa and T20Is in New Zealand. Guess what? The Australians picked their first-choice squad for the Test series, despite the fact that a T20 World Cup – a trophy that Australia has never won – is a matter of months away.
So, if Australia prioritises long-form cricket at a national level, why don’t we at a domestic level? Yes, the financial benefit of the BBL is significant, but Cricket Australia has attempted to implement an IPL model in an environment where the talent pool is far more shallow than India. So, the quality of the competition has suffered, and on top of that, our cricketers are starved of red-ball cricket for weeks on end.
Worse, Cricket Australia continues to remain embroiled in a dispute with Channel Seven due to BBL quality failures. For Australia to go forward, it’s imperative that red-ball cricket is played during a Test series so we know which players are in form at the key stage of the season.
Instead, players can be slamming centuries now, but once the next Test rolls around, there is no way of using a March century and only a few Shield games in October to determine if a player is all ready to slot into the Ashes side by November.
The statistics against India were quite damning. Who will be our opening batsmen in the coming years? Who will bat five, and more importantly – perhaps scarily – do Cricket Australia know who is putting their hand up? Are we going to continue to rely heavily on Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne for our runs?
To dominate once again, Australia needs to go back to basics. Batting long needs to be encouraged, and with all the white-ball action throughout the summer, making the adjustment can be quite the ask for a batsman.
For example, in the first two Tests against India, Australia produced 24 double-figure partnerships. Only three went past 50, and there were no 100+ run partnerships. After bowling India out for 36, the Australians had the chance to put one hand on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Instead, they let them back in the series thanks to poor batting in Melbourne.
The likes of Ben McDermott and Kurtis Patterson are talented. The discarded Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson remain in the fray.
However, they need to be playing red-ball cricket at the peak of Test cricket season, otherwise you’ll be going off white-ball form if you want to bring someone into your Test squad during the summer.
This also applies to the opening position. David Warner will be 35 at the end of 2021, and Cricket Australia is struggling to even find a partner for him. Could you imagine having to find two openers when Warner finishes up?
The likes of Sam Whiteman and Bryce Street, who have both showed good form in Shield, are prospects. Again, however, they must be playing Shield cricket at this time of year, which Cricket Australia isn’t enabling.
Australia’s batting, in addition to the uncertainty as to who replaces Tim Paine as captain when he retires, requires Cricket Australia to have a clear strategy regarding red-ball cricket moving forward. If not, this crop of Test cricketers risk not reaching their full potential.